Virgin plans travel agent chain

Virgin is considering opening a chain of travel agents. The move is a response to tour operator-owned agents aggressively pushing their parent companies’ holidays.

Richard Branson, speaking to Marketing Week at the launch of Virgin’s short-haul European travel service Virgin Sun, says: “We are looking at our own method of distribution. If travel agents continue along the line they are going we will be forced to look at it [opening a chain of travel agencies].”

Will Whitehorn, Virgin’s director for communication, confirms the development. He says: “We are looking at creating a couple of flagship sites. There are also opportunities within our retail chain Virgin Records and the Virgin-owned Our Price chain to sell holidays.”

Virgin is concerned about travel agents which are directionally selling – those which sell holidays from their parent companies in preference to others in the market.

Thomson owns the travel agency chain Lunn Poly, while Airtours owns the Going Places chain.

A Monopolies & Mergers Commission (now the Competition Commission) report in December 1997 effectively gave tour operators the green light to further consolidate and vertically integrate. Virgin believes that travel agents now sell in a less impartial way.

Virgin, which is also reported to be looking at space travel, is considering floating its travel arm on the stock market to raise cash to buy expensive airport slots.>

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